Habitual Offender Law: What is it and how does it work?

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Schuyler Marvin
Schuyler Marvin

A law put into effect roughly 30 years ago is not what many might think.

The habitual offender law (La. R.S. 15:529.1), a law that allows a judge to impose a stiffer sentence on repeat offenders, is not a “three strikes, you’re out” law, says Webster District Attorney Schuyler Marvin.

“It’s what we called graded, where the more offenses you have the severer the sentence,” he said. “It’s not an automatic three strikes and you’re out.

Your predicate (previous) crimes have to be over a certain level. It gets kind of complicated, but if you commit a second offense, the penalty can be enhanced for the offense you’re being prosecuted for.”

He gave an example, using a robbery that carries a 12 year sentence. With the habitual offender law, it can be increased twofold to 24 years.

He says the decision to charge a person as a multiple offender is up to the district attorney.

“If you’re not charged as multiple offender, the judge can only sentence you for the crime you’re charged with,” he said.

He explained the process by which a person can be “multi-billed.” A person is found guilty of an offense. That person is sentenced. Either immediately following sentencing or upon appeal of the sentence, the state can charge the person as a multiple offender. That turns into almost another trial, Marvin says.

For example, an offender is charged with possession of cocaine and possession of a Schedule IV.

“You have to have another trial to prove he is who you say he is, and that these prior convictions are for (the person) charged,” he said. “So you would call (to the stand) a fingerprint expert or a probation officer to say ‘I know for a fact that he’s guilty of possession of cocaine or possession of Schedule III, and I know that because I was his probation officer, and I supervised him for those offenses.’”

Paperwork must also be provided to prove the prior convictions.

When a judge gets ready to sentence, Marvin says it’s normally at least twice what the offender would have gotten had he not been multi-billed. Marvin says it’s his office’s policy to use the habitual offender law if there are prior convictions and if it is warranted. It’s taken on a case by case basis.

When the DA’s office offers a plea deal for someone with multiple convictions, almost always the habitual offender law is taken off the table, he says.
The case of recently convicted Keddrick Kennon is a perfect example of the use of the habitual offender law, Marvin says.

“(He) is actually a fifth felony offender,” Marvin said. “They are all for the same thing. You have a guy that gets caught 20 years ago, pleads guilty, gets a two or four year sentence and he does a third of that. After he gets out, he deals drugs again, gets caught and gets a five year sentence. That’s a second offense, so you have to do half. He’s been doing this for 20 years. That’s why he got the maximum sentence he did.

“Think of how many lives have been affected by that,” he continued. “It doesn’t just affect (one person). It affects everybody.”

The law is a good one, Marvin says, because it’s a good tool and it’s a good deterrent.

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